Indeed, in a predictable backlash, quite a few of those I follow on Twitter began to wonder out loud whether we shouldn’t be concentrating on more ‘worthwhile’ topics instead.
Surely they have a point? Burundi, South Sudan, Yemen… the list of under-reported conflicts which are at risk of turning into full-scale carnage goes on.
In spite of a need for coverage of these and many other important stories, I’m pleased that the investigation into alleged corruption by FIFA officials is receiving such wide attention.
“Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe it to football” said Albert Camus. Now, he may have been stretching the point slightly, but I know what he was on about. Football, and sport in general, is one way in which we as a hyper-connected global population relate to and learn from each other.
I’ve had conversations in the middle of the Ethiopian countryside about Arsenal’s barren spell without a trophy, talked about tactics in Jerusalem hotels and driven for five hours to take a Texan to Burnley to witness a 1-1 draw.
Football isn’t just about 22 people kicking a piece of leather around some grass. It’s about identity – why does half the world support Manchester United, despite never having set foot in Stretford? It’s also about politics – think of the disgraceful way in which Wimbledon fans had their club stolen from them and then, remarkably, re-created it. Football is also about faith. Yes, in the sense that many of us support our clubs more in hope than in expectation, but also in the way that many of our oldest and proudest football clubs were created by Christians as a direct outworking of their religious convictions.
In this context I’m delighted that the alleged corruption many of us have long suspected at the heart of FIFA is beginning to be investigated. From blatant sexism to inaction over racism to absurd messianic tendencies, FIFA President Sepp Blatter epitomises everything that’s wrong with large multi-national organisations. Environmental concerns, the cost to ordinary fans and the basic rights of workers are all disregarded in an effort to do one simple thing. Use football to make money. Pots and pots of money.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter epitomises everything that’s wrong with large multi-national organisations
We all know that’s why big companies exist and if we don’t like the way they behave, we can switch to another brand, or boycott a given product altogether. But FIFA’s more difficult to avoid. If you love football and all its positive qualities as I do, the thought of boycotting a World Cup is a stomach-churner. But how many more slaves have to die in Qatar before we say “no more.”
I really love football. I’m honoured to be part of the choir that will sing that glorious hymn of praise to God’s steadfastness ‘Abide With Me’ before the FA Cup Final on Saturday. But at the same time, too much of modern football repels me. Maybe, just maybe, the investigation into FIFA is the start of a process which will see the beautiful game become a lot more lovable again…